Poll: After shutdown, Americans say country is on wrong track

Americans not happy with shutdown, president's approval marks unchanged

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Six-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction after the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history, according to a poll NBC News and the Wall Street Journal released Sunday. It was conducted just before Friday’s deal to reopen the government

It found an angry and fed-up America during the shutdown. Nearly 70 percent of people have negative opinions about the state of the nation today.

“Wrong track,” “Disarray,” “Turmoil,” “Polarized,” “Concerned,” “Shambles,” and “Declining” were some of the answers when respondents were asked to sum up their feelings on the state of America. 

“Times are grim,” said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff. “The shutdown is front and center.” 

The poll – conducted before a deal was reached Friday to temporarily reopen the government after 35 days of it being closed – also finds President Trump is continuing to receive poor marks from the public as he begins his third year in office, with a majority disapproving of his job and just a third having confidence in his policies and personal characteristics. 

But the poll shows how the unstable and unpredictable news environment – including the shutdown and Russia probe – has had little effect on public attitudes about President Trump, with many of his numbers essentially unchanged since the start of his presidency. 

“This poll looks a lot more our December data than in October 2013,” when the GOP’s numbers plummeted during that shutdown more than five years ago, said McInturff, the Republican pollster.

According to the poll, only 28 percent of Americans say the nation is headed in the right direction, which is the lowest percentage on this question during the Trump presidency. 

By contrast, 63 percent believe the country is on the wrong track – tied for the highest mark since Trump took office.

In addition, asked which word or short phrase they would use to discuss how they feel about the state of America, 68 percent had negative answers, including “wrong track,” “disaster,” “divided” and “downhill.”

Just 17 percent provided a positive word or phrase. 

The president’s approval rating remains at 43 percent
As for President Trump’s standing in the poll, 43 percent of Americans say they approve of his job (including 29 percent who strongly approve), versus 54 percent who disapprove (including 47 percent who strongly disapprove).

Those numbers are unchanged from December, when an equal 43 percent gave Trump a thumbs-up. 

But his standing in the NBC/WSJ survey differs from some other recent national polls, which showed a slight drop in the president’s job rating during the government shutdown. 

In current NBC/WSJ poll, 86 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s job – compared with 5 percent of Democrats and 39 percent of independents. 

Also in the new survey, just 33 percent of Americans say they are “extremely” or “quite” confident that Trump has the right set of goals and policies to be president – essentially unchanged since January 2017.

And only 28 percent are “extremely” or “quite” confident that Trump has the right set of personal characteristics to be president. Fifty percent say they are “not at all confident,” and another 21 percent say they are “only somewhat confident.” 

Forty-four percent believe Trump has brought the wrong kind of change to the country; 39 percent say he’s brought the right kind of change; and 14 percent say he hasn’t brought much change either way. 

Ranking Trump’s presidential qualities – from best to worst
The NBC/WSJ poll also measures eight presidential qualities for Trump. His highest marks (where he scores a “4” or “5” on a 5-point scale):

  •     being direct and straightforward in communicating with the American people: 43 percent give him high marks;
  •     changing business as usual in Washington: 39 percent;
  •     being effective and getting things done: 38 percent;
  •     being a good negotiator: 36 percent. 

His lowest marks:

  •     being steady and reliable: 32 percent;
  •     being knowledgeable and experienced: 32 percent;
  •     being honest and trustworthy: 28 percent;
  •     having high personal and ethical standards: 24 percent. 

Notably, Trump gets below 50 percent on all eight of these presidential qualities. 

“For all of his superlatives and self-evaluations of being the greatest at this, or the best at that, the best verdict the public can muster on any specific quality related to Trump is mediocre at best,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who also worked on this survey. “And most evaluations are far worse.”

Majority puts shutdown blame Trump
On the issue of the partial government shutdown, which ended (at least for the time being) on Friday, 50 percent say that Trump is more to blame, while 37 percent pointed the finger at Democrats. 

Not surprisingly, this blame game is split along partisan lines: 90 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of independents blame Trump, versus 76 percent of Republicans who blame congressional Democrats. 

Also in the poll, 45 percent say they favor a wall or fence along the border between Mexico and the United States, while 52 percent say they’re opposed. 

Just 39 percent approve of Trump’s handling of immigration and border security, compared with 51 percent who approve of his handling of the economy. 

And by a 44 percent-to-35 percent margin, respondents believe that people who want to immigrate to America by coming across the U.S.-Mexico border strengthen the country’s values and character, versus 35 percent who think they weaken those things. 

Public split on Russia probe’s fallout on Trump
Finally, asked if special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has given them more doubts about Trump’s presidency or not, 45 percent of Americans said yes, while 48 percent said no.  

The NBC/WSJ poll was conducted Jan. 20-23 of 900 adults – almost half reached by cell phone – and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.